Along the vibrant Mediterranean stretch of Costa del Sol is the southern Spanish region of Andalucia. The air is crispy and balmy. Warm winds buffet a steep mountain path that the Spaniards call Desfiladero de Despenaperros. Crossing the trail, immediately below, the winding road reveals rows and rows of green olive trees with their silvery leaves spread out against an azure sky. This then, is the gateway to Jaén – Spain’s home to olive oil or Aceite de oliva .
Sitting at the base of a mountaintop medieval castle, Jaén echoes a rich past. Olives from Jaén once made their way to Rome, where they were favored by Caesar himself. Today, Jaén has about 60 million olive trees, with even tourist routes being organized around the famous ‘ Ruta de los Olivos’ or Road of Olives.
A third of Jaén province, almost 3107 square miles, is devoted to olive groves. Together, they produce 900,000 tons of olives, which are turned into 200,000 tons of olive oil. Andalucia itself is the main olive oil producer in the world and Jaén alone accounts for around half of the region’s production, one-third of Spain’s olive oil output and 15% of all the olive oil made in the world. Most of the olives are harvested from November to January.
But in Jaén, this ‘Spanish Gold’ is not as much business as it is tradition. Breakfast in the city begins with a toasted bun, dipped in olive oil. Decadent desserts are spun from chunks of sweetened whey fried in olive oil, and coffee table discussions revolve around the best oils – locals apparently prefer full-bodied oils with a strong, peppery aroma.
Oil then, here, is what wine is to France. As the sun sets, the red earth that drapes Jaén shimmers in the dry heat, the trees that wear them almost still. Thousands of olives still lie glittering in the sun, waiting to be picked tomorrow in the city they call the Riyadh of olive oil.
Postcards from Around the World
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